After months of uncertainty, Masai Ujiri will be returning to the Toronto Raptors.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to lead this team. I love being the leader of the Toronto Raptors and I'm here to stay," Ujiri said in a video shared by the team Thursday.
The Raptors say Ujiri has signed a multi-year contract that will expand his role from president to vice-chairman, too.
“Great sportsmen impact their games. Great leaders impact their communities. Masai Ujiri does both, and we’re very pleased he is returning to the Raptors as vice-chairman and president,” Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum said in a press release.
“Masai and MLSE share the goals of bringing another NBA championship to Toronto, and off the court, working toward making our city, country and world a better place. These are exciting times, and we look forward to all that comes next for our team, for Masai and for his family. Masai, we’re glad you’re staying home."
The architect of the Raptors' 2019 championship, Ujiri has overseen the most successful era of the team's history. Away from his front office roles with the Raptors, Ujiri has served as the director of Basketball Without Borders Africa, an NBA program which promotes the game throughout the continent. Ujiri also oversees two camps, one for the top 50 players in Nigeria and another for African big men. The Raptors said Ujiri intends to take on new challenges outside the game as well, including advocating for equality and fair treatment for marginalized people in the justice system, and focusing on the issue of child soldiers and peace.
“To be able to stand with Larry Tanenbaum and the MLSE board as we confront these challenges is huge,” Ujiri said.
“To share a vision of what we believe can be possible, and understand the work we have to do to get there, is a huge reason I’m so glad to be back in Toronto. I am very grateful for their confidence and their support.”
After first joining the Raptors in 2013, signing a five-year deal to replace Bryan Colangelo as vice-president and general manager, Ujiri immediately made his mark as a bold decision-maker with an ambitious vision for what the team could become.
One of his first moves on the job was trading away Andrea Bargnani, the franchise's only first-overall pick, to the New York Knicks, signalling Toronto's foundation would be built upon a core of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
During the 2014 season, that core made its return to the playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets. Though Toronto would eventually lose the series, Ujiri made clear his belief in the roster, shouting to a group of fans "F--- Brooklyn" during an on-stage appearance, a proclamation he would later be fined for.
The Raptors built momentum from that first-round loss, becoming a team that expected to make the playoffs, not just contend for them. The Ujiri-led Raptors won five division titles and finished the 2017-18 season with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Being consistently good wasn't good enough for Ujiri, however.
Believing the team had the capacity to not just be in the playoffs, but win throughout, he made a series of decisions in 2018 that fundamentally altered the course of Raptors history.
First came the firing of head coach Dwane Casey, who was coming off a coach of the year win at the time, and the promotion of Nick Nurse to fill his role behind the bench.
Then Ujiri swung arguably the most impactful trade the franchise has ever made, trading DeRozan, who at the time was the longest-tenured Raptor and a beloved fan favourite, for Kawhi Leonard, who was coming off a season with the San Antonio Spurs that had been derailed by injuries. Complicating the trade further, Leonard, a pending free agent, had requested he only be traded to Los Angeles-based teams.
A season of managing Leonard's health positioned the Raptors to make a splash at the trade deadline, where Ujiri struck again, picking up big man Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for another beloved Raptors player, Jonas Valanciunas.
The move paid off.
A playoff run with no shortage of indelible moments followed, from The Shot by Leonard, to overcoming an 0-2 deficit against the Milwaukee Bucks to reach the Finals, all to eventually topple the dynastic Golden State Warriors and deliver Canada its first-ever NBA championship.
Since the 2019 title run, the Raptors' success has been less consistent. Leonard left in free agency, joining his hometown Los Angeles Clippers, all but ending Toronto's hopes of repeating as champions.
Soon after, core title-winning players such as Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka left, too. Toronto's 2020-21 campaign, a season they spent playing with Florida as their home arena after being displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic, marked the worst of Ujiri's tenure. The Raptors finished 27-45, 12th overall in the Eastern Conference.
There had been speculation over what Ujiri's next move would be. Several pro sports organizations beyond the NBA reached out to him, according to Wojnarowski's reporting. Others had wondered if a role more focused on his philanthropic efforts would be where he landed.
Instead, he chose to stay.
"On the court, our goal is clear: Win. Its simple: Win. Bring another championship to Toronto," Ujiri said in the video. "We are united in that mission and nothing else will do. We will bring young talent to this city and continue to build with our unbelievable players. I've said it before, and I am saying it again: We will win in Toronto."